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Confidence Challenge Sept 2014: “Break safely out of a loneliness shell. ”

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014



Yesterday, I saw a large group of women relaxing together in a park. Almost all were either chatting, or busy sewing or preparing food. But my attention focused in on one young woman who was sitting with her back turned slightly outwards reading a book.

The image of this young woman stayed with me on and off all evening.  Was she so super-confident that she could feel perfectly at ease reading a book while the rest of her group socialised around her?  Or, was she inwardly lonely, but didn’t have the confidence and skills to become part of the crowd?

On reflection, I realised why that particular scene had caught my attention. Seeing that young woman set apart from her crowd had obviously triggered a powerful emotional memory. As a child, I often felt an outsider. I would bury my head in toy or a book to make it appear that I was fine. I didn’t want anyone to think that I needed or wanted the company of others. This self-ostracising habit lasted well into my twenties.  Then, with apparent suddenness the outer shell I had built around my loneliness cracked. I had a breakdown. Everyone who knew me was shocked. They had not seen me as someone who was fragile or lonely.

Unlike me, the little solitary girl in the photo above looks lonely and sad. As her distress is obvious, perhaps a caring adult or another friendly child would have helped her. I do hope so.  But if she wasn’t ‘rescued’, she too may have started to act as though she was fine. Children whose loneliness is repeatedly ignored do often become adults who appear not to need or want company. Eventually they convince themselves that this is the kind of person they actually are.   They see and accept themselves as an ‘outsider’.

But all human beings are social beings.  Of course some of us are genetically programmed to need and enjoy more company than others. That does not mean that loneliness is a natural or healthy state for anyone. The uncomfortable feelings, which this emotional state triggers, are there for a reason. Their function is to prompt us into getting more interaction with others.

In today’s busy competitive society, that has undoubtedly become harder and more risky for anyone to do.  But it is even harder for people who lack confidence. And to make matters worse for themselves, when they do pluck up the courage to try, they usually  make the mistake of diving in too deeply too fast.  This is why I have designed this month’s Confidence Challenge with social safety in mind.

Here are some steps for you to try:

  •  In the next week, resolve to strike up at least three very simple conversations with strangers or acquaintances. These could be, for example, fellow travellers or people standing in a queue with you. Keep to very safe subjects such as the weather or the environment you are in. Make sure your tone of voice is upbeat. (Moaners tend not to be very popular people!) Remember also to avoid discussing any subjects that could be controversial such as politics and religion.  Small talk is not intended to be interesting. Its purpose is to provide a safe zone in which to become physically comfortable in the person’s presence.  We are doing just what dogs do when they sniff around each other before they decide to become play companions! We may not use our noses to check the other person out, but we can use our eyes to observe their body language and appearance. Then, we use our analytical brain together with our more primitive intuition to assess whether they are potentially ‘friend’ or ‘foe’ .
  •  During the rest of the month, continue starting up conversations, but for now try sharing a little ‘safe’ information about yourself, such as, “It’s a pity the train is late, I was really keen to get to work early as I have just come back from holiday and so will have some catching up to do.”  Doing this should prompt the other person to ask a question, make a comment or share something about their life. If it doesn’t, then you will know that for some reason they don’t wish to engage in conversation. Don’t forget that their reason for not wanting to do so is very unlikely to be because you are who you are! It is much more likely to be because they are preoccupied, stressed-out or in a hurry. So just move on and try someone else.
  •  If you have managed to prolong the conversation and wish to finish it, simply round it off positively by saying something like “It was good talking you“.
  •  In a month’s time, note down what you have learned from doing this Confidence Challenge. Hopefully you will have gained some useful knowledge about yourself and the art of starting conversations. I also hope that you will have begun to feel a little less lonely amidst the crowds.

Good luck and have a good start to the Autumn


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2 Responses to “Confidence Challenge Sept 2014: “Break safely out of a loneliness shell. ””

  1. Margaret Travis says:

    I love reading your blogs, although am new to tweets etc. so have no idea what I am doing. However, this month struck a cord with me as I was small in stature and bullied at school, so developed a hard shell and probably talked too much rather than sat silent. I recovered my self esteem because I outshone my bullies finally by academic achievement!

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